Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another German Politician

The person or persons behind the pseudonym Robert Schmidt, previously known for documenting extensive plagiarism in the doctoral dissertation of Annette Schavan, has now turned his or her or their sights on the president of parliament, Norbert Lammert. Schmidt documents more of a different kind of irregularity in Lammert's thesis, submitted in 1974 to the University of Bochum, than in many of the other theses that have become public. It seems that Lammert did not actually read the literature that is given, but was basing what he wrote on secondary literature. This becomes evident when one sees him faithfully following the errors that are contained in secondary literature, including a reference that is not to be found under the title given.

There was a similar sort of plagiarism in the thesis of Mh, who has had his doctorate rescinded in the meantime. Amongst the 2200-odd references Mh gave were many errors copied 1:1 from the secondary literature. A caveat to students contemplating lifting references without checking them themselves: If you end up copying the errors, you might as well have put a big red sticker on your thesis that says "Plagiarism!". Mh, however, had much word-for-word and pawn sacrifice plagiarism as well that spanned an entire page.

Schmidt has, however, found material from 21 sources on 42 of the 116 page thesis, which is quite extensive. The documentation was made public by journalist Manuel Bewarder in the German daily Die Welt on July 29, 2013. There was the usual fluttering across the media world that has now seemed to die down to a grumbling protest about those damn plagiarism hunters and a renewed discussion of needing a statute of limitations on dissertations.

Yes, a statute of limitations. If you have managed to keep your plagiarism under wraps for 10 years, so the discussion goes, you should be home free and don't have to worry about losing that Herr Dr. or Frau Dr. on your door.  I realize that this sounds bizarre to my international readers, who know that the scientific record must be set straight whenever we determine that something is amiss. And if a dissertation turns up plagiarized, then the person handing it in never fulfilled the requirements for that doctorate, and it is thus revoked. This is similar to a driver's license or a building permit. If you sent your brother to take the driving test and get found out, the driver's license will be confiscated; if you fudged on the calculations for your building permit, they might just make you demolish the structure and start over right.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Lammert reacted calmly by calling the university and requesting them to investigate his dissertation. They were dumbfounded, the fax from Schmidt that announced the case to the university didn't seem to make it to the president's office. Lammert published a digital copy of his dissertation, a smart move.  Things will now take their course. I wrote to the University of Bochum about a case that I had informed them about back in April of 2012, a medical doctorate submitted by Ahg. Oh yes, they revoked his doctorate, but he's taken the university to court. That means he can still use that doctorate until the court tells him, as the courts have told everyone to date who has sought legal recourse about a rescinded doctorate, that the university is right. Good for us, we will get to read more sordid details about the case when the judgement is published, as Roland Schimmel noted in Legal Tribune Online back in February. 

One would hope that now the rest of the cases that are still pending at universities will finally get resolved. Must write another letter tonight.

Update 2013-08-15: It is not the pseudonym itself that is doing the documentation, that is just the name. It is the person or persons behind the pseudonym. I have changed the wording to better reflect this.

1 comment:

  1. Just taking references without reading them seems to be no plagiarism at all.

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004608.html

    At German Natural Science faculties I've never experienced a case, where someone (for example a student) has been accused of plagiarism because of taking references without reading them. I doubt that Mh lost the doctorate because of unread references.

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